US flag planting unnecessarily omitted from Neil Armstrong biopic “First Man”


By Reece Keusch ’19

Whether we were writing the Declaration of Independence, creating the internet, ending slavery or building the Panama Canal, the United States of America has had an unprecedented amount of technological and sociological achievements since its inception in 1776. But perhaps, the most astonishing accomplishment of them all is when hundreds of thousands of Americans worked together to be the first to send three men to the moon.

In remembrance of Neil Armstrong, who passed away in 2012, the movie “First Man” is being released by talented director Damien Chazelle on Oct. 12 of this year. While the biopic looks incredible on almost all fronts, it has been encased in a political controversy. Chazelle and the cast of “First Man” made the preposterous decision to leave out what is possibly one of the most famous and historic moments in US history: the planting of the American Flag on the moon as Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took their first steps.

Ryan Gosling, who plays the lead role of Armstrong in the film, explained the decision at the Venice Film Festival.

According to CNN, Gosling reasoned, “I think this was widely regarded in the end as a human achievement [and] that’s how we chose to view it.” He continued, “Time and time again [Armstrong] deferred the focus from himself to the 400,000 people who made the mission possible.”

First of all, Gosling makes a good point: the moon landing was a huge accomplishment for all of humanity, or as Armstrong would have put it, “a giant leap for mankind.” The issue I have with that first statement is that Gosling insinuates that leaving out the planting of the flag is necessary to portray Apollo 11 as a human achievement. Right off the bat, the logic of this is irrational, as the landing can be shown as both an American and a human achievement.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio expanded on this point in a tweet, stating that “The American people paid for that mission, on rockets built by Americans, with American technology and carrying American astronauts. It wasn’t a UN mission.”

Regardless of these simple facts pointed out by Rubio, Gosling goes on to justify his first statement by explaining that Armstrong often gave a lot of credit to the other people working on the moon landing. However, I fail to see how this supports the idea of this being a human achievement over an American one. The irony in the statement is that most of the 400,000 people that had contributed to the mission were Americans.

But Chazelle’s reasoning is actually completely different from Gosling’s. “We included the famous descent down the ladder because that’s him alone, literally first feeling what it’s like to be on the moon,” Chazelle said in an interview with the LA Times. “But other than that, we only wanted to focus on the unfamous stuff on the moon. So we don’t go into the phone call with Nixon, we don’t go into the scientific experiments, we don’t go into reentry.”

Chazelle clearly views the decision as merely a cinematic choice, unlike Gosling who sees it as an opportunity to make some sort of unpatriotic point. But perhaps, Chazelle truly did make this decision on the basis of having more time for Armstrong’s character development, which is fair considering the movie is more about Armstrong than it is about the Apollo 11 mission as a whole.

I do, however, still think that the omission of this moment, even for cinematic purposes, is ludicrous.

President John F. Kennedy once said, “In a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon-if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.”

The mission of Apollo 11 was groundbreaking, but the most meaningful and powerful part is, pretty undisputedly, the flag planting. For these reasons, a film about the most well-known man from that groundbreaking expedition, should not exclude the most powerful moment of the mission. This is why I believe that the true reason behind this controversial decision is actually the reason Gosling gives: the filmmakers really did want to send the message that the moon landing was a “human achievement.” Hollywood has had an extreme left-leaning bias for some time now, and Chazelle has also been outspoken about his political affiliation, as can be seen by several of his tweets from the past year. Most liberals I know are great people, and have an admiration for our country, but lately there has been a trend among the far left, especially in Hollywood, of having a very cynical view of American patriotism.

In the midst of all of this, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon who is not exactly known for keeping his opinions to himself, responded to Chazelle’s decision in a tweet with images of Armstrong and Aldrin planting the flag on the moon, with multiple hashtags, including “#proudtobeanAmerican” and “#onenation.” While this is a very classy and non-provactive response, some people felt that more action needed to be taken.

The Washington Post reports that there has been a lot of people on social media calling for boycotts of First Man. I don’t think a boycott is helpful to anybody, especially because of how petty the decision to omit the flag is. I have no problem with people having their biases, and this is a free country, so bias can be shown in all forms of expression, including movies. In fact, I am actually very excited to watch the movie.

I just think it’s a shame that the American flag planting is left out of the upcoming movie. It is the flag that represented victory of American freedom over Russian communism, and a testament to the blood, sweat and tears of Neil Armstrong and the hundreds of thousands of Americans who made their mark on history.